It was an ordinary Friday night (pizza night in our house) and I was making a salad when my husband walks in from work. I looked at him and was seized by a longing so sudden, so intense, it literally made me dizzy. Right then, practically right there, we had sex – which is typical when you’re young and love is new – but we’d been married for nearly 20 years (two kids!).
Afterwards, when he could catch his breath, my husband said, “Wow – where did that come from?”
I had been wondering the same thing myself.
I was at the age when women sometimes skip periods, an annoying precursor to menopause. So when I didn’t get my period that month, I thought nothing of it. When I started feeling queasy in the morning, I dismissed that too, as work-related stress. But the day I pulled on a T-shirt on without a bra and the soft cotton hurt my nipples, I thought, “Oh, shit.”
I had just celebrated my 46th birthday.
This is crazy, I thought – I cannot be pregnant. I already have my kids. They are 13 and 10, and I am done. Sure, a few years earlier I really wanted a third, but I talked myself out of it: Too old, too broke, too overwhelmed.
Then I remembered some reading I had done on fertility, hoping to encourage a friend who was trying to conceive at 40. But the news was not good. Odds are infinitesimally small of conceiving at that age. Six years down the road, it’s about as likely as an immaculate conception.
That’s what I kept telling myself as I drove to Target for a pregnancy test.
I felt so stupid even buying the thing at my age. So I grabbed the test, then got a cart and walked around Target for half an hour, piling in whatever I saw: tube socks, monkey wrenches, Raisinets! I threw in anything to give the impression that I just was a normal mom shopping for her family, instead of a 46-year-old woman who may have gotten herself “in trouble.” I even had a cover story ready in case the cashier questioned me about the test. “Not mine,” I’d say. “Just…holding it for a friend.”
I finally made it home – but couldn’t bring myself to take the test. Because I had spent the entire car ride back freaking myself out, thinking things like, “I’m 46 now, but I’ll be 47 when it’s born, and on ‘baby’s first birthday’ I’ll be 48 years old!” I also figured out that, the year we finally send our oldest to college, this child would be entering kindergarten. With my mind on the subject of college, I calculated that my husband and I would be able to retire…never.
This was not the life I planned. So I did the thing any mature, responsible person would do. I hid the test at the bottom of my sock drawer.
And it there it lay there all day long, all through the night – like the Telltale Heart beating under the floorboards, like that freaky raven squawking, “Nevermore!”
By the next morning, I couldn’t take it anymore. The minute my husband left for work, I ran into to the bathroom, tore open that test, and peed on the stick. And as I’m bringing it up to put it on the counter – to wait for the few minutes it’s supposed to take – out of the corner of my eye, I see that red line. And not just red, but stop-light red, fire-engine. I could practically hear the siren: rrrrr, RRRRR, pregnant, PREGNANT.…NEVERMORE!
I called my husband at work. He’s a high school teacher, so this meant pulling him out of a classroom of freshmen to receive this news. And I will never forget his response. One word: “Really?” Just like that: happy, hopeful. His spontaneous reaction was one of joy.
I slapped that shit right out of him. “Don’t sound happy!” I said, “This is terrible! I can’t have a baby – I’m practically 50!”
“Oh,” he said, “Sorry about that.”
My mind began to turn on me. I went to some very dark places. At one point, I actually consoled myself by thinking maybe I will lose this baby. That is a terrible thing to admit, and I apologize to anyone who has gone through that, but it just shows how powerful fear alone can be, how destructive.
Eventually I made an appointment with my midwife. And the first thing she said is, “How this this happen, Diane?”
“Are you kidding?” I said, “You don’t know? This is why people don’t go to midwives!”
She told me to calm down. She’s said I was perfectly healthy and things would probably be fine. But she also urged me to take a test for birth defects that can be done as early as 10 weeks.
When I was pregnant with my first child, at 32, the chance of a problem was one in roughly 1,000 – so low I didn’t even bother getting tested. When I was pregnant with my second child, at 35, the odds were 1 in 400. Again I passed on the testing.
But now, the odds of having a baby with a birth defect were one in 20. And, even though the chances of getting pregnant drop precipitously each year after age 40, the odds of a multiple birth – twin, or even triplets – increase substantially.
With visions of twin babies in wheelchairs keeping me in a state of holy terror, I go to take the test. As I’m filling out the forms and get to the section on age, I see the last bracket is 40-45. There is no 46. When I turned in the form, I made a joke about this “discrimination against senior moms.” But in truth, it felt like a judgment, an omen.
There was nothing left to do but wait – the three longest days of my life. Finally, the midwife called me with the results.
“The baby’s perfect,” she said, “A little girl.”
And just like that, that’s what this pregnancy – this “problem” – became: A little girl. My daughter. On the spot, I decide to name her Catherine Grace. (I wanted something unusual.)
Catherine Grace turned 10 this year, and now, all I want is to turn back time. The pregnancy was a breeze, she was the easiest baby, and I had more fun with her than I think I’ve had with anyone in my entire life.
And all those fears? Mostly just noise. Be careful of that noise. It drowns out so much of what’s good in life. It tempts us to do some really foolish things. And it seems to get the loudest right when we’re on the threshold of what, it turns out, we really want.